In each issue of Capital Xtra, a prominent literary Canadian recommends a queer-authored book. In this installment, graphic novelist Mariko Tamaki recommends Billeh Nickerson’s Let Me Kiss It Better: Elixirs for the Not So Straight and Narrow (Arsenal Pulp, 2002).
As voyageurs of sexiness, queers are often called upon to expose and explore the world of sex outside of the missionary one-two-three. A number of established queer sex writers do this very well: Susie Bright, Dan Savage, Carole Queen and Patrick Califia, to name a few. What sets Billeh Nickerson, and this book, apart from most of the writing about sex that I have come upon (no pun intended), is Billeh’s ability to be very sexy — and to talk about very explicitly sexual things — without falling into the breathlessness, the weight, of erotica.
Let Me Kiss It Better is a collection of short essays gathered into an entirely personal collection. Each vignette in this book ponders an (often sexy) incident, friend, phenomena, place or object, exploring, through careful reflection, the significance and place of each in Nickerson’s life. In one chapter, The Seven Men Who’ve Cut My Hair, Billeh takes us through the multiple personal and impersonal touches that go with the aesthetic practice of hair maintenance. In My Very First Screwdriver, he muses on the linguistics of handyman-ness. In Garden of Earthly Delights, he considers the prowess of the average root vegetable.
This is not a book that needs, or strives to be sexy, to get you off like a desperate lover with a low sense of self-esteem. Instead, like a perfect date, Nickerson endeavors to share with his reader his genuine affection for all that is sexy/queer/Canadian. Reading Let Me Kiss It Better is like listening to Julia Child talk about food or Duane “Dog” Chapman talk about kicking ass, or (I’m trying to think of someone Canadian) Celine talk about René. It is an unequivocal pleasure to read.
The tone, throughout this book, is perfectly conversational, sweet and light — which is harder to translate into print than you would think. It feels like you’re sitting next to Nickerson, listening to him talk about a restaurant that smells like sperm or the first time he kissed a girl (on the knee).
A small confession. I know Nickerson. I won’t take it personally if you need to discredit this recommendation based on my friendship with him, although I will also say that a) we’re not testifying in a court of law, so knowing the defendant in question isn’t: a) that big a deal, and b) I didn’t know Billeh when I first read this book.
It was, in fact, the reading of this book that made me want to be Billeh’s friend.